Work underway for Duke's new staff

Jul. 12, 2014 @ 06:12 PM

Jon Scheyer benefitted the most professionally at Duke when Steve Wojceichowski left the Blue Devils to become Marquette’s head coach last April.

At the same time, Scheyer said, that doesn’t make it any less odd that Wojciechowski’s two-decade run with Duke basketball has ended.

“For me,” Scheyer said, “Wojo is synonymous with Duke. He has been here so long. When you think of Wojo, you think of Duke. For three-fourths of the times I’ve watched Duke basketball, Wojo has been part of it.”

Instead, Scheyer moved into a full-time assistant coaching role on Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke staff upon Wojciechowski landing his first head-coaching job. And that means that Scheyer must assimilate with fellow assistant Nate James and Blue Devils associate head coach Jeff Capel as they and Krzyzewski prepare for a new basketball season with a revamped roster.

Krzyzewski is taking the approach that change will be good for his iconic program, which he’s led to 910 wins, 13 ACC Tournament championships, 11 Final Fours and four NCAA titles since 1980.

“I trust all the guys,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve been very energized in looking at change.”   

The coaching staff shake up, with the 26-year-old Scheyer joining the staff as Wojciechowski’s 15 consecutive seasons as a Duke aide ended, comes as the Blue Devils come off an up-and-down season. Though the ACC Tournament runner-up, Duke (26-9) had its fewest wins and most losses in seven seasons while failing to win an NCAA Tournament game for the second time in three seasons.

Wojciechowski’s departure comes one year after another former Duke player and longtime assistant, Chris Collins, left Duke to become Northwestern’s head coach.

Like Wojciechowski and Collins, Scheyer, James and Capel are all former Duke players who were captains under Krzyzewski.

This month, though, they’ve embarked on an entirely different mission. The start of an open recruiting period means they’re on the road recruiting top high school players around the country.

Before they left, they welcomed one of the nation’s top incoming freshmen classes to campus to begin the process of melding them with returning veterans like senior guard Quinn Cook and juniors Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee.

While developing chemistry on a reconstructed staff, the coaches also aim to get the players started on that same process. The coaches admit that both need to be successful if the Blue Devils are to reach their potential on the court.

“Our communication with each other, our communication with our players,” Capel said. “We don’t know exactly how it’s going to be or what all the differences are. How will we hold each other accountable? All of those things are areas where we have to get back to excellence. “With most programs, there can be some times where there can be some slippage. It’s about getting back to the values of Duke basketball and what has made this program one of the best programs in the country.”

Scheyer, only four years removed from leading Duke to the 2010 NCAA championship as a senior, brings the freshest look to the Blue Devils. An eye injury that he suffered while playing in the NBA Summer League in 2010 curtailed his playing career, causing him to begin coaching perhaps a few years earlier than planned.

“It’s opportunistic for us,” Krzyzewski said.” If Jon didn’t have that serious injury, I think he’d be playing ball for a long time either in the NBA or in Europe.  For him to come to us now, he keeps us a little bit more current.”

Since NCAA rules only allow three full assistant coaches, Scheyer was a special assistant last season. That meant he could work on scouting reports and film work, but he couldn’t recruit nor could he work on the court with players.

Those restrictions disappeared for him in April and he said working with players in practice will make a big difference for him.

“In some ways you need to get used to teaching, but being on the court is what comes natural to me,” Scheyer said “When you are in it every day with the guys working with the, putting your own sweat in with them on the court, there’s a little more mutual respect. It’s a little easier to talk to them.”

The oddity of not seeing Wojciechowski nor Collins on Duke’s staff remains something those around the Blue Devils will work through. The fact that Krzyzewski remains fully engaged in the program at age 67, though, is a big plus for Duke.

“For as much as those guys did, the identity is through coach (K),” Scheyer said. “So I think change can be a really good thing. No one is going to replace Wojo. No one is going to replace Chris. But there is a different way to do things and hopefully we’re able to find that balance for a fresh look but also accomplish what they were able to do while they were here. They had amazing success and were great coaches.”